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Natasha Alexander's Story (1)

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2188. In orbit around Venus.

            “Yes, Ms. Alexander?”

            Kevin turned abruptly in his seat, and immediately had to catch himself in the zero gravity.

            Natasha pursed her lips. “May I ask a question?”

            “You’ve been my assistant for fifteen years now. You may.”

            “Why are we here, at Venus?”

            They had been four days in a mid-size ship, Varona class, orbiting the planet and waiting – just the two of them, plus two Psi Cops (who kept to themselves) and a flight crew all P3 and under, half of them not even officially in the Corps. No one but the director had the faintest clue what they were doing there, but neither did anyone have the guts to ask the director himself.

            He was in his mid-eighties. What if he had finally gone senile?

            Director Vacit had told EarthDome that their mission to Venus was to track a rogue telepath, but Natasha didn’t believe this any more than the crew did, or for that matter, the Senate. Senator Khalid Ahmed of the United Islamic Nations had even made veiled threats of impeachment. The Corps, he fumed, wielded broader discretionary powers than any other Earth Alliance agency on or off Earth; they were well-funded, staffed and trained, and unsurpassed in organizational efficiency, but despite all the money and personnel and resources, the rogue threat on Earth only seemed to grow day by day. Bombings. Murders. Kidnappings. Corps prison camps were regularly attacked and overrun, their inmates sprung from their cells to rejoin their comrades in the business of terrorism, murder, kidnappings and mayhem. Networks to traffic telepaths only seemed to grow in size and complexity; children suspected of being telepaths were secreted all over the globe, snatched from school and relocated before the Corps could test and register them. While it would have been treasonous for anyone within the Corps to openly challenge the director, the Senate - which oversaw the Corps' purse strings - could always do as it pleased.

            And Director Vacit was messing things up. Badly.

            The Corps had one job, the senator emphasized, half-shouting from the screen on the Varona's flight deck - one job and one job only: to control the telepath population and protect normals from the dangers posed by them, and it was failing. And now Vacit had taken a ship to Venus. Why? No one knew. Four days had passed, and no one onboard – save perhaps Vacit himself – had any idea why he or she was there. The Senate oversight committee, of which Senator Ahmed was a member, certainly didn't buy Vacit's line about chasing down a rogue. Even if there were a rogue problem on Lucifer station, why would the director go himself? It was plainly nonsense.

            “Sir, why are we at Venus?” Natasha repeated.

            He didn’t answer her, merely changed the subject to 20th century American literature, and the books he’d given her to read on the journey – his favorites. Natasha pursed her lips again, annoyed. This ancient “science fiction” he was so enamored of wasn’t to her taste at all – it did a terrible job at predicting the future, and when the subject of telepaths came up, she wanted to laugh. The author of his favorite book didn’t have the faintest idea what it was really like to be telepathic, and the work was sexist and racist to boot, but she didn’t think it wise to discuss the subject with him right then.

            “If you can’t tell me why we’re here,” she said instead, “then please at least tell me so. But I think I speak for everyone on this ship when I ask you why we’re orbiting Venus, apparently doing little else.”

            “We’re here to find out what was in that hole in Antarctica,” he said, flatly.

            She raised her eyebrows, and her eyes widened. Years ago, she and Vacit had visited a crater in Antarctica – again under the false pretenses of “looking for a colony of rogue telepaths” – to investigate a theory, one Natasha herself had discovered through meticulous research, that many telepaths had ancestors who had once visited Antarctica. Many tourists did so every year, from all around the world – but most didn’t report alien abduction experiences, or go missing for several days with no memory of where they’d been, later reappearing no worse for wear. It seemed very odd to Natasha that many telepaths had family stories of grandma or grandpa – or someone further back – having disappeared, many of whom had apparently disappeared in Antarctica.

            But she and Vacit had found nothing there. The small Antarctic colony of Vostok, comprised of only a hundred people, had put itself out to great lengths to accommodate them, at considerable strain on the colony’s meager resources. One of the villagers, a middle-aged man named Sergei Zviyagin, the mayor of the outpost, had even escorted them out to that exact, remote spot in the ice, the one Vacit was convinced contained some important clue – but there was nothing there but a crater.

            Natasha had never been off-world, but Antarctica looked as she imagined another planet might. The sky was an endless expanse of grey, and as far as she could see, there was only rock and ice. Her eyes ached for color, but the only color in that desolate place was the eerie blue glow from the glaciers. Light, she was told, penetrated deep into the ice and reflected out, but only the blue wavelengths. Some of the glaciers were lighter, some darker, but all seemed to glow with an otherworldly hue and shades of blue that she didn’t even believe were real colors.

            They passed over endless white ice, by cracks and crevices, and dark rocks that lay on the ice or under it. Across the barren continent, there were a thousand holes in the ice, either naturally forming or dug by human equipment. Natasha pulled her scarf up over her mouth, glad at least that the director had decided to make the journey at the peak of Antarctic summer. Still, the wind chill was bitter.

            The hole they came to see, though especially big – perhaps two kilometers deep, and hundreds of meters across – was otherwise no different from the others, at least to Natasha. Satellite data had revealed nothing unusual. But there was no stopping the director when he got an idea into his head.

            “It’s just a hole,” Natasha had said. “See, sir? There’s nothing here.”

            He had looked down into the crater, and asked their guide to help him procure a chopper, so he and Natasha could descend to the crater’s bottom.

            “A chopper? Are you mad? Do you realize how much trouble it has been for us already to get you here?”

            The director was insistent. When he and Natasha got back to the Vostok colony, he threatened to call Geneva and put up a big stink. He gave them the same nonsense story as he’d used earlier – that he firmly believed there to be a colony of rogue telepaths living at the bottom of that very crater.

            Zviyagin laughed. "You want me to think you believe there are telepaths, burrowed down in the ice that covers the Gamburtsevs, gradually evolving into creatures of crystal? Come, Director. Your people - your Psi Cops and soldiers and scientists - they have put a strain on our existence here. Our once orderly lives have been disrupted, and you wish to repay me only with something I can laugh at?"

            "EarthGov has approved my stay here," Vacit said, flatly, "and our business is a matter of internal security. That will have to be enough for you, I'm afraid."

            "But Director-"

            Vacit couldn't quit, and the more he threatened, the more the colonists stopped laughing and became genuinely afraid. He may have gone mad, they decided - ranting about H. P. Lovecraft and Mountains of Madness and telepaths under the ice -  but he was still the director of the most powerful agency in EarthGov, and he served for life, at the discretion of the Senate. The Roman emperor Caligula had gone insane, too, but it would have been a bad idea to cross him.

            They got Vacit his chopper. Natasha assumed they also filed a report with the Senate, but she knew the politics of EarthGov better than they did – no one up in Geneva would give a hoot what the colonists of Antarctica said. They probably wouldn’t even believe the complaint in the first place.

            “You can fly it, can’t you, Ms. Alexander?”

            Natasha was an experienced pilot, but she’d never flown a craft exactly like the one they produced. She nodded anyway.

            “Yes, sir.”

            “Good.”

            And into the hole they flew. But again, Vacit had nothing to show for it, at least anything he could show others. There were no alien artifacts at the bottom, like the strange fragment that she and Vacit had long ago located in the Yucatán. There was nothing but rock and ice. Chunks the size of cars had broken off the walls, hit the bottom of the crater and exploded. The crater, she knew, was not safe. The director could get them both killed, she thought, and for what? To chase ghosts?

            “Sir, it’s not safe here,” she said, as they walked around the crater floor, looking for signs of alien life. “Another piece could fall anytime. The whole thing could collapse.”

            “I know.”

            “Sir, we should leave. I don’t even know why weren’t here. The radar scans showed nothing but ice. I really think-”

            Just then, she felt a change in his mind, from where she stood about two meters away. She ran to him, to catch him from falling, and saw that his eyes had rolled back in his head.

            Natasha had started to panic. She couldn’t leave him, alone. The nearest medical facility was a hundred kilometers away. Even the Vostok colony was over a dozen kilometers away, and two kilometers up.

            “Director!” she shouted, propping him up. “Kevin!”

            He was shaking, entirely unaware of her. Her voice echoed back to her through the cavern, over and over.

            Oh my God, I could cause an avalanche!

            Logically, it didn’t make sense – if the chopper hadn’t caused an avalanche, her voice wouldn’t. But in the eerie silence of Antarctica, with only the grey sky above and the dark ice all around her, proper reasoning left her.

            Kevin!

            She stopped screaming aloud. Vacit would hear her, if he could still hear anything – he was a telepath, even if she was the only one in the world who knew it.

            Director! Director Vacit!

            She grasped him firmly, through his thick parka, but he still didn’t respond. With his eyes rolled back, she couldn't see his pupils. He started convulsing as if having a seizure. She tried to scan him to find out what was happening, but all she got was static, blaring static.

            She was no medical telepath – she was merely a P5. Teeps of her rating rarely made it out of the Business Division, and were it not for her family connections that went back to the earliest days of the MRA – four generations[1] – that’s where she would have ended up, too. But she’d been lucky – she had been prepped almost from birth for something more, placed by her mother in the very first Cadre Prime of the Corps’ flagship school in Geneva.[2] She was destined for greatness, her teachers had told her, but now, she was facing down her possible imminent death in a crater in the middle of Antarctica, all because her foolish boss had decided to chase ghosts.

            She held his hand, shook it.

            Director! Mr. Vacit! Kevin!

            He stopped convulsing, and looked at her.

            “I’m here,” he murmured.

            “Oh God! Thank God!” She buried herself against him, almost weeping.

            “It’s OK. I’m OK, Ms. Alexander. Did you feel it?”

            “Feel what? You started shaking and staring into space, like you were having a seizure. You were blaring static.”

            “It was like a death-trace, but-” He paused, and looked around. “Is this where I was standing, the whole time?”

            She nodded.

            “And when you came over to me, you felt nothing?”

            “No sir.”

            He nodded. “It’s OK. There’s nothing here, you say?”

            “No sir. I told you. Radar, sonics and satellite scans show nothing. There’s slight background radiation, but this is Antarctica. More radiation comes through here. It’s an empty hole, sir.”

            “It is,” he said, wistfully, his thoughts elsewhere. “It is now.”

            Somehow, they had survived Antarctica, and now they were on Venus, so he could chase his ghosts again. She and the director had barely survived the last time; she prayed he didn’t have designs to go down to the surface of Venus, too.

            “But why do you think… well, why Venus, sir? We found nothing in the crater back home on Earth. Hell, we almost died in that hole.”

            He nodded slowly. “This is information for you, and you only, do you understand?”

            She nodded.

            “Years ago, before you were born, I touched an alien artifact that IPX had found on Mars.[3] Not Centauri, not Narn, but unlike anything we’d ever seen before, or saw since, until you and I found that fragment in the Yucatán.”

            “The one the cultists were worshiping?”

            “The same. It’s organic technology, Ms. Alexander. Very advanced. I arranged for the IPX artifacts to be transferred to the Corps in secret[4] – you know how persistent I can be when the situation calls for it.”

            She laughed, and wondered what story Vacit had concocted to threaten IPX. Interplanetary Expeditions was an enormous, very powerful organization. Even back then, when they weren't as powerful yet, they would have been much harder to strong-arm than a few isolated colonists in Antarctica. He must have had something big to go on, a threat with real substance.[5]

            “And we got the artifacts not a moment too soon. It wasn't long before a nuclear blast leveled San Diego proper.[6] IPX declared all their research lost… they told EarthGov the artifacts were destroyed.”

            “But the Corps has them?”

            “Yes. They’re on Mars, in a top-secret facility known only as Department Sigma. We built the base around the time you started working for me, back in ‘73.[7] Few in the Corps know of Sigma’s existence,[8] let alone what we do there.”

            She nodded.

            “These artifacts of which I speak are among EarthGov’s most highly classified secrets, Ms. Alexander. I shouldn’t be telling you about them even now – I do so only because of the great trust I have in you, trust perhaps you shall understand some day.”

            “I appreciate that, sir.” She didn’t know what else to say.

            “Then you will also appreciate that what I tell you next is more than classified – it is unknown to everyone except me.”

            She nodded.

            “The fragment from Yucatán – did you perceive anything unusual when you handled it?”

            “Not really, sir – but I never touched it barehanded.”[9]

            “The artifact from Mars had a certain… signature. When I touched it, I felt… I suppose I must call it awe.” He paused, reflectively. “When I was four years old, my mother died. She was holding me. She was a powerful teep, and I was, too, even at that age. I went with her, when she died, via a sort of involuntary deathbed scan.”

            Natasha gasped in horror. She had heard the trauma that adults suffered after conducting such scans, and couldn’t imagine what it would be like for a child – and with his own mother, at that.

            Her gloved fingers flew to her mouth. “I’m so sorry, sir…”

            “I went beyond the doorway, and I think I almost stayed there. I saw a Shalako – a sort of spirit my mother’s people believe in. I felt it was good, and kind, and very powerful. And then it became my mother, giving me a gift.

            “I’ve always believed that the gift was real, in some sense. I think she gave me some of her strength, enhanced my abilities. As you know, the scales can’t rate me, but I think I’m at least a P13.”

            Natasha didn’t know whether to believe his dying mother could have imparted telepathic “strength” to her son – she’d never heard of any such thing before – but she’d never known exactly how Vacit’s telepathy had worked, either, and his explanation seemed as good as any. Perhaps there were others out there whose abilities worked like his did, but as director of the Corps, he would know – if he’d never found them, then maybe they didn’t exist. Maybe he was unique.

            Most telepaths became more “visible” the stronger they were, creating more of a “distortion field” around them in mental space, like a gravity well.[10] A normal made a tiny dimple, while a P12 made a very large impression in mental space – a highly trained one, even more so.[11] Vacit looked like a normal to all but a handful of P12s, and even then, they weren’t quite sure what they were sensing. The scales couldn’t rate him – they couldn’t even find him. The testers mistook him for a normal.

            And then there was the Yucatán, and Antarctica. Vacit had strong telepathic reactions to things Natasha couldn’t even perceive. It made her wonder if perhaps, this was how it felt to be a mundane.

            “Since Antarctica,” Vacit was saying, “I have begun to question whether that is all that happened when my mother died. Maybe she didn’t give me these abilities. Maybe someone, or something else did.”

            “You felt something in Antarctica, I remember.”

            “Yes. I felt a death-trace, one so old that it shouldn’t have been there. I’ve sent P12s back to that site since – without telling them, of course, what to expect – and they felt only a faint presence, nothing like what I perceived.”

            It was one thing to risk his own life, she knew, and hers, but to send Psi Cops in there with no explanation? What would they think, sent on an absurd mission by the director himself, to investigate an empty hole in the ice of Antarctica, one which the director and his closest personal aide had already investigated?

            They could only conclude that Vacit had gone mad, or that they had somehow got on his bad side, and had been sent on a suicide mission. No wonder people in the Corps and in EarthGov had decided the director was becoming unhinged from reality. What if the two Psi Cops had died there? What had he planned to tell their families, their friends – the same thing he had told the people of Vostok colony, that the Corps was searching for rogue telepaths hiding under the ice? The Senate would be thinking of Caligula, ordering his troops in Britannia to attack the sea, and bring home the shells as spoils of war.

            As director, Vacit had absolute power in the Corps – including over who lived, and who died – but some of his choices made Natasha uneasy.

            “But, as you say, sir, you are stronger than P12.”

            He nodded. “The death-trace in Antarctica was… familiar to me. It was something like the Shalako, from when I was young. And like the artifact from Mars and the fragment we found, but stronger – stranger, and yet, more familiar. It was” – he struggled – “almost as though this was a piece of me. A part of myself I recognized.”

            “That’s not an uncommon phenomenon, sir, especially with teeps.”

            “No, it’s not, but in most cases it is an illusion, a trick of the mind. And so I wish to test this hypothesis, as best I can. You asked what this has to do with Venus. The impression I got in Antarctica was of two beings, two Shalako, two – whatever they were. One had died, and it was his trace I felt.”

            Now at last, Natasha was starting to follow the director’s “logic.” Back in Mexico, she had told him about a Mayan myth involving two brothers who battled the lords of death. One died, and his essence had remained on Earth, while the other had lived, and become the morning star.

            The director was nodding.

            “The morning star is Venus,” he said.

            “And?”

            “And? That’s it.”

            Natasha’s face darkened, and she crinkled her brow. “That’s it? I sincerely hope you have more to go on than that.”

            “I do,” he said, frustrated. “But it’s in here.” He tapped his skull.

            “So what? We’re both telepaths.”

            He wasn’t forthcoming with his private knowledge, however. “It’s like I’ve known it for a long time, like it’s always been there, yet it took you, and fifteen years, to convince me to actually trust it.”

            “I’d like something a little more solid to trust, sir, if you don’t mind.”

            “I expected as much. You remember that satellites had, in times past, mapped a gravitational and magnetic anomaly at the Antarctic site? Well, I’ve located a similar anomaly on Venus – so similar that it matches to within ninety-eight percent both in strength and dimensions. It’s at the Venusian south pole.”

            She couldn’t help herself. “The south pole again?”

            “So it may be that I’m not entirely crazy,” he was saying. "Nonetheless...”

            “Yes?”

            “Ms. Alexander, if you ever suspect I have gone mad, or senile – I count on you to tell me.”

            She knew he expected her to laugh. But she pursed her lips thoughtfully.

            “You have a deal,” she said curtly. “If you ever attempt to appoint your horse consul…”

            “Ms. Alexander.”

            She winked. She would, for the time being, give him the benefit of the doubt.

 

[1] Gregory Keyes, Dark Genesis, p. 136, 158, 185, Gregory Keyes, Deadly Relations, p. 200, 215

[2] Deadly Relations, p. 200, 215

[3] Dark Genesis, p. 101 (IPX found the artifacts on Mars in 2148), p. 113 (Vacit touches the artifact)

[4] Inference. Dark Genesis, p. 113, Deadly Relations, p. 201 (Department Sigma was founded in ’73 and has been studying Vorlon artifacts found on Mars)

[5] See Dark Genesis, p. 101-107, 109-113.

[6] Vacit visits IPX in San Diego in 2148. And the Sky is Full of Stars gives the date of the nuclear attack as “over a hundred years ago” as of April, 2258.

[7] Deadly Relations, p. 201

[8] As of 2222, Bester, a Psi Cop, has heard of Department Sigma, but knows very little about them (and thinks at first that they’re on Earth). Deadly Relations, p. 160-161. He even semi-mistakenly thinks that Director Johnston is in charge of what goes on there (a natural assumption, given the director's absolute power in the Corps). (“Oh, he thought. So the rumors must be true. Of a secret base on Mars, one which few even in the high command knew of. Even across interplanetary space, the director maintained a tight grip.”)

[9] Dark Genesis, p. 169. On p. 112, Ninon Davion removes her gloves to touch it (and feels something), and Kevin Vacit feels something when he touches it on p. 113, but he never wears gloves. On p. 111-112, it is implied that the business telepath, Mr. Raskov, also touched the artifact barehanded. On p. 169, Kevin feels something when he touches the artifact in the cave, but Natasha (who does not remove her gloves) does not.

[10] Gregory Keyes, Final Reckoning, p. 212-213

[11] Id.

Chapter Text

            The station commander pretended outrage when the Varona came into dock, but there was little he could do about it. There had, in fact, been a murder on board the Lucifer. Natasha assumed the director had known that before he set off for Venus, but she couldn't be sure. Perhaps he had just assumed that a station of that size would have had a murder recently, and if not, would make a different excuse.

            She remembered Antarctica - if he could allege there were rogue telepaths hiding under the ice, he could allege anything.

            It was unlikely in the extreme that a rogue teep had been involved in the murder, but Officers Trout and Sasaki – the two Psi Cops they had brought along – had their marching orders, from Vacit himself. When the Varona left Venus orbit, he told them flatly, it would be with the corpse of a verified rogue, preferably P10 or even above. A dead rogue would give some veneer of credibility to the director’s excuse for his visit, and as long as Natasha and the Psi Cops kept quiet, no one would ever know. The dead rogue could certainly never tell.

            Natasha watched the Psi Cops disembark, troubled. Trout and Sasaki probably didn't like it any more than she did, but orders from the director might as well be orders from God. Still, it was wrong - all telepaths were brothers and sisters, even rogues. Especially rogues. Wasn't that what they'd been taught in school? The Corps was Mother and Father to all. Vacit had ordered these Psi Cops to kill another telepath – one of the Corps' own children, so to speak – just to cover his ass long enough that he could test his theory about aliens, Mayan mythology and the south pole of Venus.

            You’d better be right, Kevin, Natasha thought to herself, as the Verona’s airlock sealed behind the two Psi Cops. Because if you’re not, I’m calling the Senate. I'm pulling the plug.

            Vacit, meanwhile, had one of the Varona’s two shuttles outfitted for an orbital jaunt. He and Natasha left the Varona a few hours later.

            As they watched the wheel-shaped station vanish against the marbled immensity of Venus, Natasha could feel Vacit’s self-confidence waning. He had come a long way, risked his own life as well as Natasha’s, and ordered his Psi Cops to murder a rogue - and for what? A hunch? An unresolved spiritual mystery he’d carried since his mother’s death eighty years ago?

            At least he had doubts, she mused. He knew she'd report him if this was all for naught. He even trusted her to do so.

            Natasha silently gave thanks that he didn’t intend to try a landing on Venus' surface. It would be suicide. Reaching the surface of Venus would be no problem – leaving again was. Probes swiftly burned up – melted, more exactly – once they felt the nine-hundred-degree, ninety-bar kiss of Venus’ surface. Their shuttle would meet a similar fate.

            "Easy, Natasha... take her around."

            She piloted the craft into a stable orbit over the south pole, where they waited, watching hurricanes chase one another through the roiling upper atmosphere.

            One day ticked by. Two. Nothing.

            Trout and Sasaki radioed back that they had their dead rogue. Sasaki's voice showed no emotion, but Natasha winced.

            “We have oxygen enough to stay two more days,” Natasha told Vacit finally. “Lucifer Station keeps calling to ask if we need assistance.”

            “Tell them no, again,” he replied, wearily. “Continue to hail the surface.” Natasha did so. She had set the ship's computer to radio the surface of an empty planet. It was like Antarctica all over again.

            Another day passed. They sent down the second of their surface probes, beaming messages in all known languages on a wide band of wavelengths, from modulated radar to gamma ray bursts, but there was no response from the depths of Venus’ clouds. Though they’d taken turns at the shuttle’s controls, Natasha spent twice as much time in the pilot’s seat. Vacit spent his “off” time reading, or napping. There was little to say – either he was right, Natasha knew, or he was crazy, and a man or woman had died for it.

            Vacit was asleep when the shuttle's sensors went down.

            “Sir, wake up. There’s something happening.”

            “What, Ms. Alexander?" He rubbed his eyes, slowly emerging back into consciousness.

            “All of our sensors died a few minutes ago,” she said calmly, impressing even herself with her composure. “All of them. We’re blind.”

            “Tap into the satellite net.”

            “That’s down, too, and I suspect Lucifer Station is down. Something is jamming everything.”

            That was, at least, what she hoped. The worst case scenario was major technical malfunction, with only a day’s worth of oxygen left in their shuttle. She again thought about their near-death experience in Antarctica – somehow, Vacit had talked her into it taking such risks, again. If she died in orbit around Venus, she decided, it was no one’s fault but her own.

            In her own strange way, she realized, she had a special fondness for the director. Not of a romantic or sexual nature, but she looked up to him almost as a father figure - like the father she'd never had. She'd been raised in the Corps since she was small, in the first Cadre Prime, and had barely known her parents. Her mother, Michelle Alexander, an aide to the Corps' first director, Lee Crawford, had accepted an arranged marriage to a man the Authority had deemed a suitable genetic match.[1] Neither parent had seen Natasha more than a few times a year during her childhood.

            Director Vacit had, in some sense, filled that human, paternal hole in her life. And he'd never had children... she wondered if he looked at her as the daughter he'd never had. They'd never spoken of such things, not in the fifteen years she'd been his aide. There were so many things she'd never asked him.

            Vacit pulled himself forward to the cockpit. The nose of the shuttle was pointed directly at the planet. Night bisected the view, clotted cream and darkness. Against the white and yellow arabesques, something was growing – a dot, a circle, not just coming closer, but blooming like an orchid, or perhaps like a beetle unfolding its wings. It was a ship, but a ship unlike any they had ever seen, and it continued to grow until there was no Venus, only the ship, its carapace scintillating, shifting vaguely and constantly. It opened a mouth and took them in.

            COME.

            The voice coalesced out of sudden static, as order emerging from chaos. Natasha couldn’t tell if it was a voice of sound or the mind. She felt the blood drain from her face.

            “Did you hear it?” Vacit asked, eagerly.

            “Yes, sir.”

            It had to be telepathic, she decided, unless the aliens spoke English – and that was too much to believe.

            Or perhaps she’d fallen asleep, and this was all a dream?

            “Hull sensors are back up.” She glanced at the panels. “It’s an oxygen/nitrogen atmosphere outside, just like Earth, and pressure has equalized.”

            Vacit peered through the port, but beyond lay only darkness. “Well, Ms. Alexander,” he said softly. “Let’s go meet your angels.”

 

[1] Gregory Keyes, Dark Genesis, p. 117

Chapter Text

2199. Psi Corps administrative building, Geneva.

            Eleven years had passed since that fateful day on Venus. Natasha’s once vibrantly red hair was now streaked with white, though as always, she still kept it short in a closely-cropped pixie cut. The years had been less kind to Director Vacit – now in his mid-90s, he struggled to walk. He knew his time in this world was running short.

            He had no power to choose his successor – only the Senate did. As director, he had absolute power within the Corps itself, and could pick any of the telepath leadership under him, but all of these appointments would be subject to the whim of the next director. Natasha had often wondered what would become of her when Vacit passed – would she stay on and work for Vacit’s successor, or take a job elsewhere? Would the new director want her around, to help him or her learn the ropes, or would the newcomer “clean house” instead? The last time the Corps had changed directors had been back in 2156, when Natasha had been only three years old - the same year the Centari had made contact, the same year Natasha had joined her cadre. Vacit had kept most of Crawford's folks on board, slowly making the Corps his own over his long tenure, but there was no guarantee that his successor would follow suit.

            The upcoming shift of power was a matter of great anxiety among the telepath leadership of the Corps, though few spoke of it aloud. The director of the Corps had been granted absolute power over telepath lives - even literally over who lived and died. Vacit, she knew, had been as fair as possible with that power - when telepaths had to die, it was for a good reason. But who would the new director be, and what would be his or her values? How far, she wondered, would the director go to “clean” the house?

            Vacit summoned Natasha into his spacious office. He sat at a desk in front of bay windows that overlooked Teeptown, and beyond it, Geneva and EarthDome. The walls of his office were lined with bookshelves, mostly containing historical materials, but with a few science fiction volumes mixed in. The carpet in front of his desk was decorated with a large, black letter “psi”.

            She stood up straight, facing him, in the middle of the letter. "Yes, sir?"

            “I have decided,” he said.

            “Sir?”

            She and the director had not spoken about the journey to Venus since they returned to Earth eleven years ago – at least not aloud. Their respective – and collective – visions aboard the alien ship had remained a secret between them, an unspoken bond. They, alone, in all of humanity, knew the truth about the alien visitors.

            “I would like to put you in charge of Department Sigma,” he said.

            Though Natasha had never visited the secret Corps base on Mars, she knew the director’s decision was sensible. The facility had been established to study ancient alien artifacts, mostly found on Mars, and she and the director alone had had direct contact with the aliens who had made them. Who better to lead the research base than one who knew these beings intimately?

            “I understand, sir. I would be honored.”

            “No, Natasha. There is more. The mission of Department Sigma has to expand. I cannot entrust this responsibility to anyone other than you.”

            She realized he was taking another leap of faith, like Antarctica, like Venus. Possibly his last.

            Times would change soon - he wanted Natasha safely out of Geneva, where the new director couldn't reach her. And he needed her to continue his legacy. The new director wouldn't be his successor - Natasha would be. Not in name, of course, but in substance. The realization hit her like a blow. Why hadn't she seen this coming?

            Vacit pushed a button, and a screen descended from the ceiling behind her and came to life with figures and charts: population projections.

            “I’ve done some research,” he said. “What if the massacres of 2115 had not occurred, or the massacres of 2156, when the Centauri landed? Consider it. What if thousands of telepath fetuses had not been aborted, once they announced a test for the genetic marker? What if our people weren’t killed every week, every month, every year on streets across the Earth Alliance? What if so many of us weren’t driven to suicide by mundane-produced sleeper drugs?”

            The bottom line of the chart, Natasha saw, depicted reality – a slowly rising population (with a few dips over the years), representing the currently close to nine million telepaths. The higher lines depicted various “what ifs” – twenty million, thirty million, forty million.

            “There were supposed to be more of us, Ms. Alexander. Many more.”

            Natasha thought back to her brief visit with the being of light, the “angel.”[1]

            I AM HERE, it had said. I HAVE ALWAYS BEEN HERE.

            In the alien ship, she and Kevin had had a vision of a war, fought on a scale beyond imagining. The enemy was darkness embodied, their ships, black spiders that screeched through the infinite silence of space. They were entropy, they were the end of everything, they were the monsters out of the birth of time... An explosion of images, too much to understand.

            Their war had ended, but not in victory for either side, only in a ceasefire. They were not gone, the monsters – only waiting. The angels waited, too, and they prepared the younger races for what was to come, even humanity, the race so young it knew only the vaguest echo of the last war.

            Two ships came, together, to prepare them. One died in Antarctica... As the angel revealed itself to the director, the images assaulted Natasha’s mind with such sharpness that she wanted to scream, but she could not feel her own body. He – she? – no, he, Vacit, was dying with the ship, hurtling into nothing. Only a piece remained, and somehow, it had found its way through the generations to him, through his mother.

            And there was a second ship – one that lay in wait, one that would one day wake. The ship that she and the director had found on Venus.

            She had felt Vacit begin to understand. He thought again of his mother, of her passing in the cave, his involuntary deathbed scan, of the something that had been passed down to him.

            You made us, he told the angel. You took some of us, altered us for centuries, changed our genetic code.

            YES.

            To stand against the monsters, against the darkness. To save humanity.

            YES.

            My gift… it was from you, somehow. What was it? Why do I see your brother? Why do I feel what he felt?

            THE MIRROR NEVER SEES ITSELF. THE REFLECTION NEVER IS ITSELF.

            You led me here.

            YES.

            Why? What am I supposed to do?

            The angel paused.

            EVOLUTION CRAWLS TO IMPERFECTION. IT ENDS IN EXTINCTION.

            The light faded. GO NOW.

            They'd re-entered the dark shuttle, and Vacit had nodded to Natasha. “I should have seen it,” he told her. “I have wasted time.”

            She hadn't understood what he meant. “I saw a vision of terrible things,” she had told him. “Creatures of darkness.”

            “Yes, but somehow, we – or our children – can hurt them. I think that’s why the other angel died. The enemy found them here, on Earth, and they had to fight to defend their secret about what they were doing here. The ship died to protect… us.”

            Natasha had looked at the shuttle’s sensors, all of which were working once again. “It’s gone. The ship, the anomaly… they’re both gone.”

            “Yes. It stayed just long enough for us to find it.”

            And now a decade later, were they any more prepared for war?

            Vacit nodded. “You remember what the angel said – they made us to defend humanity against a terrible enemy." It was the first time they had spoken of the angel's visions since that day on Venus. Of course they'd both known, but... but it felt so strange to hear him speak of it aloud now, on Earth, in Geneva, in the light of day.

            She nodded.

            "But Ms. Alexander, individuals are not enough. Only an organized force can fight against the darkness."

            "What organized force?"

            "The Corps. At least, we can become that force. Humanity is no more prepared for invasion today than we were eleven years ago. But we, telepaths, the Corps - we are all that stands between the human race, and the abyss.”[2]

            “Yes sir.”

            Still watching the director, she shifted uncomfortably. The aliens had involved themselves in humanity's fate for sure, but she wasn’t prepared to say, as the director had, that she had been “made” by them. It wasn't true - telepaths had always existed, even if they were less common and usually weaker. The aliens had simply sharpened what had always been there, enhanced it, made it more common. The enemy, whoever they were, was especially vulnerable to telepathic attack. A different enemy would perhaps have required different skills to defeat – faster reflexes, perhaps, or greater mental acuity. Vacit alone could say that his abilities came "directly" from aliens, and even that connection was still more a matter of faith than science for Natasha.

            She shifted again. She had never told him everything about that day. Though she had shared much of the director’s angelic vision – not all, she knew – the angels had also delivered a special message to her, and her alone, one she had never spoken of to anyone. She wondered if she should tell him.

            The director pointed a finger to the screen, and she turned back around. "There should have been many more of us. When the angels tinkered with the human genetic code, when they created telepaths of unprecedented strength, they did not anticipate that we, humans, would kill ourselves. They didn't anticipate the massacres, the abortions. They did not foresee how many of us would die, or never even be born.”

            "Perhaps they did."

            "We have no way to know, so we must assume they did not. Natasha, for every telepath alive today, there are at least three who aren't here. Do you understand what I am saying?”

            “I think I do, sir.” Her voice cracked. “So the arranged marriages in the Corps… these were your idea, all along? Part of your intuition… to help fight the darkness?”[3]

            “No, the genetic matching was already in place under Crawford. He had his own agenda, I suppose. I encouraged the arranged marriages, all of that. I streamlined it, prioritized it. I made it Corps policy that telepath marriages must all be approved. We couldn't dilute ourselves out of existence.”

            She nodded.

            “But that is not enough. There are still too few of us. The enemy could arrive any day, and we must be ready to fight immediately. We're not ready. Perhaps we will have generations before the enemy arrives, perhaps only weeks. When they arrive, humanity will be faced with an enemy unlike ever before – beings who can destroy our race as easily as we step on a bug,[4] and when we meet that enemy, we will need every weapon we can get. Most importantly, we need more telepaths.”[5]

            “Sir? How do you propose-”

            “That's where you come in. I need you to take Department Sigma in a new direction,[6] one devoted solely to saving the world from this threat. Studying the technology of the angels is important – but they are so advanced that perhaps in hundreds of years, we will be no further along. We need to do more. We need to make telepaths stronger – to make P5s into P10s, P10s into P12s, we need to break the P12 barrier and make telepaths even stronger than that.[7] We need stable telekinetics.[8] We need ships. Warships.”[9]

            She nodded. It was a wild idea, and a desperate one. In an ideal world, she knew, normals and telepaths would be able to work together to address the threat. And perhaps, some day, they could. But could telepaths afford to risk their lives – and all of humanity – on that dream? When the normal public had found out that the Centauri had telepaths, and that the Centauri culture valued them, they’d slaughtered telepaths in the streets all over again, afraid that human telepaths might somehow be in league with dark alien forces.[10] There was little reason to believe that normals had changed. How would they react if they discovered that another alien race, these angels or whoever they were, really had tinkered with the human genome?

            Telepaths were all registered, now. The Corps kept databases listing everyone, where they lived and where they worked. If Vacit revealed what he knew about telepath origins to EarthGov, there could be another massacre, this time far worse. And if the new director ever found out...

            No, Vacit was right, she decided. All the plans had to be conducted in secret.

            “...And we need a drug that can make normals into telepaths,” the director was saying, “even temporarily, just long enough to fight the enemy.”[11]

            Her breath caught in her throat. “Sir,” she began, shaking, “that would rip society apart. If such a drug could be made, and ever got out…”

            “Yes.” He nodded. “I know. But if we defeated the darkness, there would still be survivors. Against the darkness, we stand no chance at all.”

            Natasha took a deep breath. To develop such drugs – to push past P12, to tap into latent genes and make normals telepathic – such a project would take years, and require an army of volunteers. And if this work was all to be done in complete secrecy, none could ever return.

            Natasha looked at the population charts again, the jagged lines arcing upward – for now. In an instant, with the coming of this Darkness – or in the face of a sustained campaign of extermination, by normals – those lines could crash down to zero.

            She thought of the telepaths who had been murdered over the years, of the memorials to the dead in Teeptown, in Chicago, in Shanxi and elsewhere. She imagined a world with four times the telepath population, wondered how it would be different. She could almost see the faces of those who had died, or who had never been born – hear their laughter, feel their pain. They called to her, these ghosts from the past, and from the future that never was - they called out to her that their deaths would not be for nothing.

            She felt a shiver down her spine. Ever since Crawford had incited to violence against telepaths in 2115, the “war” between telepaths and mundanes had dragged on year after year, death after death. An endless war with casualties on one side – hers.[12]

            Day after day the Corps got reports of murdered telepaths. Every month, the normal papers covered a story here, a story there: a steady stream of lives cut short by senseless hate and jealousy. And what did most telepaths do about it? Nothing. Nothing, at all - Psi Cops did what they could, and everyone else was taught to suck it up. Sacrifice. Don't make waves. Don't provoke mundanes.

            Telepaths mourned in silence. Good telepaths buried their anger, their rage, and watched as nothing ever changed.

            Vacit was asking her to build an army – an army that one day, if humanity survived, could liberate telepaths from life under the boots of normals.

            Her mind spun. It was unthinkable - a fleet of warships, all belonging to telepaths, to the Corps. An army trained to fight, not to hold its fire and wait to be shot. Telepaths could at last be free - with an army behind them, they could force their mundane “masters” into a renegotiation of the Psi Corps charter, force mundanes to return to them all the civil and political rights they'd been stripped of in 2115 and the years that followed.

            There would be a revolution.

            One day, telepaths could be their own people, their own nation – no longer victims, instruments, tools.

            Justice.

            Dignity.

            Self-determination.

            Freedom.

            She could see it in her mind’s eye – a fleet of warships, all their own.

            But there were other matters to deal with first. In orbit around Venus, Natasha had seen the Enemy, the spiders of Darkness. She had heard their silent mindscreams echoing through space. She’d seen visions of a war that had stretched across the galaxy, a war so ancient, so wide in scope, that the struggle between telepaths and mundanes was no more than two mice fighting over a scrap of cheese in someone’s back parlor. If the Corps didn’t stop that Enemy, there would be no more battles to fight.

            We are all that stands between them and the abyss.

            She thought of a story she had read once, back in school, in her course reader. The story spoke of a young man in ancient China named Guo Ju, who had decided to sacrifice his son so that his mother could have enough food to eat. For his filial duty, he had been rewarded with a pot of gold from the gods. In Department Sigma, they would be sacrificing their children for their parents, the Corps. For humanity. To build Vacit's army, she would need to develop stronger telepaths, and the drugs would have to be tested on human volunteers. Some might die. Some might go mad. Some might even have to be dissected, to better understand what the drugs had done to their brains.[13]

            Department Sigma would have to kill telepaths – the Corps’ children – so that humanity, Mother Earth, could live.

            “Is this what the angel meant,” she asked, “when it said ‘evolution crawls to imperfection’? That evolution itself will not be fast enough, that they gave it a push when they helped make us, and that we must give it a push as well?”

            “I believe so, yes. ‘The mirror never sees itself.’ The angels did their job, and now it’s time for us to do ours.”

            “And is this why you let the Underground go on for so long? Did you somehow believe that by letting telepaths kill each other, it would produce stronger telepaths?[14] Because that’s not how it works. Evolution takes much longer time scales. Killing each other only makes us weaker-”

            “Yes, I know.” He sighed. “I made a mistake, there. I did help the Underground, for a time, as you – and eventually the Senate – suspected. I told myself it would help make the Corps stronger, make telepaths as a whole stronger,[15] that the conflict would produce better fighters on both sides. But I had another reason.” He looked down, ashamed of something terrible, unable to meet her gaze. “I helped the Underground because their leader is… was, my own daughter.”[16]

            “Oh my God.”

            Natasha felt her world cave in. She knew Vacit to be a man of many secrets, she knew she would never know them all, but she had never suspected this. Fiona Dexter had been Vacit's daughter?! Fiona Dexter, the heartless, ruthless terrorist?! She almost didn't believe him.

            Natasha had never known Vacit to have any romantic or sexual relationships at all. Fiona must have been conceived artificially. Right?

            Her mind spun. It couldn't be true. Not Fiona Dexter: the architect of kidnappings, murders, bombings... responsible for the deaths of so many innocent men, women and children. Not Fiona Dexter.

            On orders from Director Vacit, Natasha had stood in the MetaPol command center in Geneva during the final battle with the Dexters, next to the then-chief of MetaPol, Sandoval Bey.[17] He had looked so handsome, she recalled, in his solid black uniform with shiny MetaPol badge, his dark hair slicked back, goatee neatly trimmed, brown eyes fixed on the screens around them as he gave orders to the Corps' commandos in his crisp British accent. So smooth, so fearless. From the command center, she'd watched the battle unfold over the live video feed from the choppers, and from bodycams on the Psi Cops. Every minute ticked by like an hour, as more and more of their men held their fire, and fell. She remembered watching as Matthew and Fiona Dexter pulled the pin on their last grenade, and blew themselves to bits in the Tennessee night.[18]

            Vacit's daughter. Vacit had also seen the video - he'd watched his daughter blow herself to pieces.

            “I did not want to hurt her,” Vacit said pleadingly, almost - but not quite - in tears. Was this some kind of confession, Natasha wondered? Did he need to get this off his chest, so he could die in peace? “Please understand that, Natasha. And please forgive me. I helped the Underground... I almost ruined everything because I didn’t want to hurt her.”[19]

            During the final battle with the Dexters, the Corps had tried to bring as many rogues as possible back alive. The Underground had been comprised of many people: some combatants, others not. They had teenagers, even children with them in their various safehouses, operational centers, and underground cave system in Tennessee. And there was a baby - the Dexters' baby, not even a week old.

            The Corps forces hadn't bombed the base from the air, as they could easily have done – Psi Cops and bloodhound commandos had gone into the cave system, room by room, knowing the risk.[20] They used gas canisters to incapacitate the fighters, and held their fire, even as they were fired upon. The rogues were telepaths – they were family, whatever crimes they had committed. They would not kill family.

            She didn't realize how literal that had been.

            "Bring the Dexters and Walters back alive," Vacit had ordered her and Mr. Bey. "We don't need martyrs. Hold your fire. Use gas. Stun them telepathically. Bring them home alive."[21]

            "Yes, sir. The Corps is Mother and Father."

            His own daughter.

            “The Corps is Mother and Father,” Vacit repeated now. “We all say those words, Ms. Alexander, we say them every morning with the pledge, we say them to each other every day, but most don’t fully understand. You do. You remember that day I gave the order.”

            She nodded.

            “I sacrificed my daughter that day. It’s like the old Chinese story. I buried my daughter to save our parents.”

            Natasha had long suspected that he had been helping the Underground, but never the real reason. She'd kept her suspicions private - if she had ever acted on them, if she had ever told the Senate he had been betraying the Corps and neglecting his duty, he would have buried her, too.[22]

            Not for the Corps - for himself.

            “We tried to capture the Dexters alive," Natasha corrected him, as gently as possible. "You know that. You even ordered that. Dozens died trying to bring her back. How many... sixty? Seventy? She took her own life.[23] You aren’t responsible for that.”

            He shook his head. “I ordered the raid. Mr. Bey took the heat for it, but I ordered the raid. I killed her - and she never even knew I was her father.”

            "She was conceived artificially, then."

            "No, her mother and I had a secret relationship for about seven years, right up to the time she had to marry someone else. Legally, I'm not a telepath, you know. Rules are rules."

            Well. That was unexpected, too.

            Slowly, Natasha put the pieces together. The Dexters had had a baby, so if Fiona had been his daughter, then that meant the baby had been Vacit’s grandson. That's why he had given specific orders to find the baby and bring him back unharmed: he'd wanted to save his grandson. What had become of him, she wondered?

            After the raid, Psi Cops searched the woods for hours, fearing the baby had been killed when the Dexters and their associates had detonated explosives underground, flooding the cave system and killing or trapping all who hadn't gotten out. At last, Psi Cops had found the infant with a teenage girl in the cellar of an abandoned farmhouse a kilometer from the Dexters' compound[23] – oh the relief that had filled the command center, that the child was safe – but from then on, the baby's fate had become unclear. Official records had never accounted for him after that. Natasha couldn't find him. Bey couldn't find him.

            Stephen Kevin Dexter had disappeared.

            “And I failed you, sir,” she said. “You directed me to ensure the child wasn’t harmed, but he was lost. And now you tell me that he was your own grandson-”

            “No, Ms. Alexander. You did not fail me. The child is safe. That is all I can say.”

            “But sir-”

            “No, Ms. Alexander. As much as I trust you, I cannot tell you more. You have not failed me – exactly the opposite.”

            She accepted that.[24] Director Vacit had many secrets, some which he would take to his grave. She honored him too much to press further.

            Still, she wondered privately, there was one boy in Cadre Prime of about the right age, whom the director had taken a special interest in... Could Vacit have changed his name and hidden him?

            “By the time you and I went to Venus, the Senate had already realized I was ineffective as director. Some suspected I was even helping the Underground, and they would have been right. None could have had any idea why. The Underground was out of control. And then in early August, rogues bombed the train station in Geneva, killing dozens of normals.[25] I don’t know whether Fiona was directly involved… but it doesn’t matter. Rogues did it, and they did it on my watch. You remember - all hell broke loose. Even the senators who supported the Underground had a change of heart.[26] We were an inch away from a charter violation, from a dissolution of the Corps and a return to the unfettered violence of 2115. Only swift action by the Corps to dismantle the Underground could possibly reverse course.

            “On Venus, I realized that I had made a grave mistake. For years, I had known where my daughter was, where her bases were, who her contacts were – and I had done nothing. For years, I had put the Corps at risk, I'd risked all of telepath-kind – but on Venus, I realized that by letting my emotions cloud my judgment, and by jeopardizing the Corps, I had also jeopardized humanity itself. Without the Corps, the human race would fall to the Darkness.

            “I had no choice, Ms. Alexander. The Underground had to be destroyed - so I came home and did it. I ordered the raid. Yes, we tried to take her alive – she was still my daughter, no matter how many laws she’d broken, no matter how many people she'd killed. You understand, Ms. Alexander… No matter what they do, all telepaths are still our people, they are still children of the Corps…”

            His voice drifted off, his eyes gazing off far into space, as if asking forgiveness from forces beyond this world.

            Natasha stood in the middle of the giant “psi” of the carpet, watching tears forming in the corners of his eyes. Had she ever seen him cry before? No. Never.

            “She chose to fight us, sir. She and her people attacked our Psi Cops and bloodhounds with deadly force. We weren't trying to kill them.”

            She knew her words wouldn't matter, but she had to try. Over sixty Psi Corps personnel had died in that raid, fighting the Dexters and their associates, or trapped and injured in the caves. Most of the Corps commandos, facing the Dexters, had followed orders and held their fire, intentionally – even as they were fired upon, injured and killed – prepared to sacrifice their lives for the Corps. Vacit had hoped that once the Dexters ran out of ammunition, his daughter and the others could be captured alive, even brought around to a life within the law, part of the Corps family.[27]

            But it was not to be. They'd gone up in a fireball, lighting up the night with their deaths. Sandoval Bey had resigned as chief of MetaPol and taken a new job in academia. The Underground had fallen, and the Corps had survived.

            “I killed my daughter, Natasha, and I saved the Corps.”

            “The Corps is Mother and Father,” Natasha said solemnly.

            “And Ms. Alexander, in asking you to take over Department Sigma, I am asking you, in a sense, to do the same as I did – to kill our children.”

            “I know, sir.”

            “We are fighting to save one another,” he said. “And some must be sacrificed, if all are to be saved.”[28]

            She knew, at last, what she would have to do. “The angel on Venus left me a message.”

            “I know. I saw it in your mind, but what they told you… that is yours.”[29]

            She took a deep breath. “You've trusted me with a secret, and so I shall trust you with one of mine. The angel said that it will be me, if the Darkness come soon, and one of my line, if the Darkness come later. It said that I, or one of my line, shall hear the call, and come to them. It said that in me, or my descendant some day, the angels shall finish the work they began in me. In all of us.”[30]

            The director nodded.

            “I have been chosen, sir. Not by you, but by them. I was chosen that day to save the world from the Darkness. In my dreams on board the Verona, the angel surrounded me with light, and I wept… wept tears of infinite love.[31] I would be made finished, gleaming, indestructible, whole.”[32]

            Standing in the "psi" on the carpet, she broke down in tears then, as she remembered the vision – through the darkness, there would be hope, and that hope rested in her. And if not in her, then in her daughter, or one of her daughter's children...

            “I will go to Mars, sir," she said, through sobs, "and I will take over this Department Sigma, and do everything I must to see that humanity survive – whatever the cost, whatever the price. You can count on me.”

            At last, the secrets were out in the open – his secrets, her secrets. For the rest of her life, she would live with these secrets, and untold others.

            Vacit nodded. “When I die, and the Senate chooses my replacement, he or she will be a mundane, as the charter requires. The new director will not be your friend, and may even be your enemy. The director of the Corps has absolute power. If the next director finds out what you’re doing, he or she may try to kill you. I expect him or her to try.”

            “I know, sir.”

            “I will do what I can to protect you, but that will end when I am gone. Department Sigma will have to work alone, beyond the reach of even the director – in complete secrecy.”

            “Yes sir. I understand.”

            Vacit had a sudden thought. “Your daughter, she is here, in Geneva?”

            After the vision on Venus, Natasha, then thirty-five, had chosen a suitable genetic match and conceived a child, as so many others in the Corps did.

            “Yes," Natasha said. "She tested as a P2 at eight years old. They wouldn't let her into a cadre, let alone Cadre Prime. I sent her to live with relatives outside Teeptown. She’s monitored, of course, in case she develops more strongly, but she's... she's not in the Corps.”[33] Natasha couldn't keep her voice from betraying her feelings. This was her one disappointment in life - she'd done everything right, but her daughter wasn't strong enough to be in the Corps.

           "I'm sorry."

            "I do what's best for her anyway."

            “When you go to Mars, I can’t promise you will see her again.”

            “I know, sir. I accept that.”

            The director stood from his chair with difficulty, walked slowly over to his aide, and placed a hand – bare – on her shoulder.

            “I have complete trust in you,” he said solemnly, “more trust than I have ever placed in another human being. You will be a good commander of Department Sigma. The angels themselves could not have picked a better person for the job.”

            She met his dark eyes.

            “Go forth Natasha,” he said, “and save the world from the Shadows.”

 

[1] This scene is adapted from Dark Genesis, p. 222-224

[2] Dust to Dust

[3] Dark Genesis, p. 218

[4] Dark Genesis, p. 217

[5] Id.

[6] See Deadly Relations, p. 199-200, when Brett tells Bester about the secret experiments that have been going on at Department Sigma. He is not aware of their history or true purpose, and seems to believe that the normals who are working for the Shadows are in league with the telepaths of Department Sigma (even though Director Johnston had Natasha Alexander assassinated, which he assumes was largely because of her past association with Vacit). Brett seems to know nothing about the true origin of Department Sigma's experiments on telepaths: to develop effective weapons and capabilities to fight the Shadows.

[7] Dark Genesis, p. 217

[8] Dark Genesis, p. 217. See also Mind War. Jason Ironheart was a volunteer in this program, even though he was confused as to its purpose (or never told).

[9] Inference. “When we meet those beings, we will need every weapon we can get our hands on.” Dark Genesis, p. 217. This is the origin of the Black Omegas.

[10] Dark Genesis, p. 119

[11] Dust was developed at Department Sigma in the 2230s. Survivors (Garibaldi says there is a “dust problem” on Mars as of 2241). See also Deadly Relations, p. 200 (Dust developed at Department Sigma, though Brett has the purpose confused), Dust to Dust (Dust developed by the Corps to give normals psi, though Bester was opposed to the idea since he felt it was too risky; the drug never worked the way it was supposed to, and then he had to clean up the mess once the drug leaked out)

[12] Final Reckoning, p. 243

[13] Deadly Relations, p. 200

[14] Dark Genesis, p. 218

[15] Id.

[16] Kevin Vacit and Ninon Davion are Fiona Dexter's parents. Dark Genesis, p. 122-123. Canon does not specify that Vacit ever told Natasha Alexander this piece of information, but neither does it specify that he did not. I am choosing to include it for thematic tie-in, because it so literally, and powerfully, is a story of sacrificing one’s child for one’s “parents,” the Corps.

[17] Inference, Deadly Relations, p. 95. (“He had once been an executive officer in MetaPol – maybe the chief – but had retired from the position after only two years, to become station chief of Geneva. He was an instructor at the Major Academy, teaching advanced criminology.”) The time period allows for him to have chief during the Dexter raid, and the Corps' failure in that raid provides an explanation for his abrupt “retirement” for a lower position in MetaPol.)

[18] Dark Genesis, p. 262

[19] Implied in Dark Genesis, p. 225. This motivation makes more sense than what's given in canon. See the fix-it fic about Fiona's origins for more on this background.

[20] Dark Genesis, p. 254-262

[21] Dark Genesis, p. 247

[22] Dark Genesis, p. 217

[23] Dark Genesis, p. 259-261

[24] Canon does not specify that Natasha knows that Bester is Vacit’s grandson. However, canon implies she may. When she says to Bester that he “sort of remind[s] [her] of someone,” and he remarks that “perhaps you knew my parents” (Deadly Relations, p. 169), her “sort of mental hiccup that she quickly covered up” implies she knows more than she is letting on, or at least, that she is aware of circumstantial evidence. Yet earlier, when Bester asks her, “Ma’am, can you tell me why Director Vacit was interested in me?” she replies, “He never told me. I never knew.”

I read this as meaning that Vacit never told her directly, and she never knew for certain, but she has her suspicions, though has chosen not to share them with anyone, out of respect for Vacit. (“But the old director took a great interest in you and I ... honor him. Her eyes shifted away, then back. I know you’ve suffered from being his favorite – you might as well benefit this once.”)

[25] Dark Genesis, p. 246

[26] Dark Genesis, p. 247

[27] Id.

[28] Dust to Dust. For a Narn context, see also Ship of Tears. Canon also cites the (historically inaccurate) story of Churchill and Coventry.

[29] Dark Genesis, p. 225

[30] Dark Genesis, p. 226

[31] Id.

[32] Id.

[33] Deadly Relations, p. 215